July 12, 2013

Orange Tofu with Rice (Recipe)

I questioned whether or not to lump this under the "Other People's Recipes" banner, as it was greatly inspired by this recipe that I found on the internet.  I wasn't seeking an orange chicken recipe that emulated Panda Express, but it seemed to be quite popular.  Not only did it show up at the top of the search engine results when I began exploring what goes into orange chicken, but most other faux-Panda recipes seemed to emulate this one.  It was a great place to start.  The flavor profile was excellent.  But not immune to changes, and more importantly; despite the high notes the recipe was hitting, it is terribly written. 
The first thing you're going to want to do is make your orange sauce.  In a small bowl, mix together 5 tablespoons each of sugar and white vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and orange juice, and a tablespoon of orange zest.  Set the sauce aside.
Trysta is always eager to help in the kitchen.
The perfect accompaniment to a dish like this is always rice, and you'll want to get it started at this point.  3 cups of water to a cup and a half of rice makes a just enough to serve this dish to six people.  Next, you'll want to begin slicing your tofu into bite sized pieces.  Since the recipe I was adapting called for two pounds of chicken, I used three twelve-ounce packages of extra firm tofu, which I sliced in half down the middle both horizontally and vertically before chopping.  Since once things get cooking, you'll also want to prep all the vegetables you'll be using at this time:  one head of broccoli and a red bell pepper (these are optional, as there aren't typically vegetables in orange chicken, but I find that having them adds more substance to the dish) as well as the base of our flavor package: two garlic cloves, a red jalapeno, and a tablespoon of fresh ginger, all minced, and a quarter of a cup of thinly sliced green onion (the white part).
Once you have our mise en place, you can make your batter for the tofu.  Everything comes together pretty quickly at this point.  Mix together an egg with two teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  
Now stir in a half a cup of cornstarch and a quarter cup of flour.  This will get really lumpy and hard to stir.  The recipe I am modifying leaves you at this point, with unworkable clumps of nothing.  The commentary on that site showed me that a lot of people decided it worked better mixing the flour and cornstarch separately of the egg mix and dredging them that way, but that's not what we're going to do here....this lumpy mix is still perfectly usable, it just needs a bit of liquid love.  
Stir in liquid until the lumps gain the consistency of a thick pancake batter (about half a cup of liquid).  You can just use water, but I wanted something that complemented the orange flavor without being overwhelming, and used the juice of a freshly squeezed grapefruit (hence the pink chunks in the picture above).  

Heat vegetable oil in a pan, deep enough to cover a piece of tofu, to medium-high heat.  Once the oil begins to bubble, cook the tofu in batches--my twelve inch cast iron was able to fit them in four groups--so that they brown evenly, don't clump together, and don't cool the oil too rapidly (which will cause them to get logged with oil). 

As you begin frying your first batch of tofu, you'll want to get two more skillets going over medium with just a tiny bit of oil to keep things from sticking--I simply used cooking spray, or you could use a non-stick pan if that sort of thing doesn't bother you.  
In the first goes the fresh veg, to be cooked down until they are soft but not mushy.  Give them just a pinch of salt as they cook, but other than that we want to emphasize their natural freshness.
 In the second pan, we have our garlic, ginger, and red jalapeno.  This pan requires a bit more attention than the other vegetables, as it will be providing the flavor punch for our dish.  Saute the ingredients until the peppers begin to soften, but before the garlic starts to become brown and bitter, about 2-3 minutes.  Then add the green onions, and cook for another thirty seconds.  Add a tablespoon of mirin, and cook just until it evaporates, then add the orange sauce.  When it begins to bubble--which won't take long--add an additional tablespoon of cornstarch that has been dissolved in a cup of water, and a teaspoon of sesame oil.
Meanwhile, you should have a pretty good pile of golden brown tofu bites.  Drain them on a paper towel, then toss them in the orange sauce until each piece is thoroughly coated.  Put the tofu and vegetables on the rice and top with the green part of the green onion, sliced thinly.  Makes six large portions.  

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